COMMENT

Once, as a chronically young journalist, I interviewed an actor called Warren Mitchell who some might remember as Alf Garnett, the anti-hero of a satirical show, Til Death Us Do Part.

Alf was a racist, nationalist, monarchist and bigot. Mitchell was an accomplished UK actor, here to take part in a play in Auckland - and muggins was sent to interview him. Mitchell took one look at wet-behind-the-ears me and called the whole cast of the theatre to pull up chairs and sit around us in a circle to enjoy the spectacle. Talk about the Christians and the Lions.

After he'd watched me dig a dirty great hole of discomfort for myself, Mitchell took over: "Look here, lad, I know what you want. You just want me to say a few bright things; a few smart phrases you can put in front of your readers."

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I gratefully agreed that was indeed what I wanted, whereupon Mitchell said: "Right - what about this, then: Masturbation is the thinking man's television."

I recalled that exchange when watching Kane Williamson score his 19th test century against Pakistan recently - because Williamson seems the polar opposite of the showman, the clever talker scattering bon mots like rose petals, the media darling.

The Mitchell story is an attempt to illustrate by black-and-white contrast how Williamson, one of his generation's pre-eminent batsmen, is a solidly archetypical Kiwi sports hero who says a lot by saying little and will, it seems, never, ever say anything remotely outlandish.

Kane Williamson. Photo / Photosport
Kane Williamson. Photo / Photosport

His seems a modesty of immodest proportions, a self almost completely effaced. Yet as he approaches the landmark of 20 test centuries - likely to occur in the series against Sri Lanka - his remarkable skill is so unremarkably presented that you can watch him accumulate runs and not realise you are watching a world star. He is so skilful and measured in his batting (as well as his off-field pronouncements, delivered mostly in a careful monotone) you forget you are witnessing an artist.

He puts his runs together so cleanly and unfussily, it's a bit like passing a tagger decorating a wall and not realising it was Banksy.

We've become so accustomed to Williamson scoring runs, many of us haven't twigged just how high he has risen in the ranks of cricket's all-time greats.

Here are just a few names below Williamson's in one of cricket's holy of holies - test averages. He sits 31st in the all-time list with his average of 51.56 (before the Sri Lanka series) in front of Gavaskar, Steve Waugh, Border, AB de Villiers, Vivian Richards - all giants.

The only problem with averages is that those who play fewer tests and perform well over a shorter period can possess an average that may well reflect their talent but not the diluting effect longevity tends to have on that stat.

If you adjust the figures to those who have played 100 innings or more, Williamson sits 15th on the all-time list, with the only current players ahead of him the great Steve Smith and India's Virat Kohli. He's 16th if you include (as we have to, really), Bradman (80 innings).

The comparative paucity of test matches the Black Caps play is shown by Williamson's place on the all-time list of test runs scorers - 74th. The only other batsman in that top 75 to have played as few tests as Williamson (68) is Smith (64) and he is still only 63rd.

Blackcaps captain Kane Williamson and fast bowler Tim Southee. Photo / Photosport
Blackcaps captain Kane Williamson and fast bowler Tim Southee. Photo / Photosport

Williamson isn't yet New Zealand's most prolific test scorer, about 1400 runs shy of Stephen Fleming (111 tests) and about 700 runs behind Brendon McCullum (101 tests) and Ross Taylor (88).

But he will be. Only 28 and still wearing the mantle bequeathed him by Martin Crowe as "our greatest ever", he also has a one-day average of 45.76, in the top 20 of all-time but still marginally behind Kiwis Glenn Turner and Taylor.

He continues to be a contained, quietly spoken man. On Radio Sport this week, asked if he set goals for himself and whether he thought he'd get to 30-35 test centuries, he said: "No, it's all about trying to do your role and your bit for the team as best you can and enjoying it as much as you can.

"That's where the satisfaction comes from, not from setting lofty goals like that [35 test centuries] ... I don't really believe in personal goals, especially in a team sport; they can get in the road of what you are trying to achieve as a team."

But he may just be a throwback to the old, tight-lipped, set-jawed ways of sport decades back where team came ahead of self and celebrations were muted - just like his fist pump when he hit a six to win a World Cup match against Australia at Eden Park in 2015.

We say "fist pump" but it was more like sneaking a biscuit out of a biscuit tin. Williamson does understated so well that he merely looked a bit sheepish to be celebrating at all.

It's all been said - that rock-solid defence, his ability to play spin as well as pace, the light feet, the skill to play the ball late and the elegant stroke play which sees the ball hit along the ground so much that he largely removes one method of dismissal.

So my new year's resolution is to watch more of him this summer. Because he is so quietly and efficiently building his monument that we will all look around one day and wonder where he is. And we will miss him when he's gone.